Central Valley Land Use Report
[Agricultural Production in an Urban State] [Goals] [Basic Principles]
[Sidebar: Can the Central Valley Learn from the Experience of Los Angeles?] [Task Force Membership] [Acknowledgements] [Footnotes]
We support the following ten principles to reach these goals:
- Support for agriculture as an industry that will encourage a strong agricultural economy to continue in the Central Valley;
- The use of agricultural land conservation strategies, including agricultural conservation easements and enforceably restricted lands, to provide incentives for landowners;
- Federal, state, and local water policies that ensure an adequate and affordable water supply for agriculture;
- Fiscal stability and revenue discretion for local governments so that land use decisions can be based on good planning and the long-term health of our communities and resources rather than short-term fiscal gain;
- The development in each Central Valley county of a unified countywide plan (involving the county and cities) with specific agricultural and urban policies;
- Amendments and use of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to provide more thorough and consistent environmental evaluation when proposals to convert important agricultural land to non-agricultural uses occur;
- Policies and incentives that keep urban uses in urban areas and encourage city-centered development by using existing urbanized land more efficiently through infill, higher density development, and revitalization of existing urban areas;
- Funding for the state infrastructure bank with clear priorities on the kinds of infrastructure projects that will be eligible to receive financing from the state bank;
- Federal, state, and local transportation policies that support compact development, the conservation of important agricultural land, and clean air;
- A clarification and refinement of the roles that city,
county and state governments should play in making land
A discussion of relevant actions and a more detailed explanation of each principle is provided below.Principle 1: Support for agriculture as an industry that will encourage a strong agricultural economy to continue in the Central Valley.
Urban growth patterns and the reallocation of resources in the past few decades have tended to support the dominance of urban land uses over agriculture. We believe the competition between agriculture and urban development should be reduced. In order to level the playing field, agriculture needs to be recognized as a legitimate and necessary land use in its own right and not merely a way to hold land until urban development consumes it. For a strong agricultural economy to continue in our nation's most populated state, agriculture must be recognized for its significant and positive contributions to the economy, health, and welfare of our society. We support actions that reinforce agriculture's role and help this important industry continue as a strong force in our economy.
The following list contains examples of actions that illustrate support for the agricultural industry and encourage a strong agricultural economy:
- Modern soil surveys should be completed for the Central Valley and the state should match the federal funds earmarked to complete this process.
- In contrast to land developed for urban uses, agricultural land can more readily provide habitat for various species. We support habitat conservation policies that also allow economically viable agricultural production. We oppose the conversion of important agricultural land to habitat land when mitigating urban development, and we are concerned about large-scale loss of agricultural land for mitigation and restoration efforts.
- Buffers should be required on newly created urban edges in cities and unincorporated urban areas in order to protect agricultural land uses from urban land uses and vice versa. The party responsible for making the change in land use that generates the potential conflict should provide the buffer so that the burden of providing a buffer does not automatically fall on the agricultural landowner or farmer/rancher. The proposed buffer should be developed by the local government planning department and reviewed by the Agricultural Commissioner who can comment on its adequacy with regard to protecting agricultural land from the potential negative impacts of adjacent urban development.
- We support efforts to strengthen the provisions of the state's "Right-to-Farm" law. For example, attorney fees should be awarded to owners or operators of agricultural activities, operations, or facilities who successfully assert immunity against nuisance liability under Civil Code section 3482.5 ("Right-to-Farm" law). We support a provision in the law that would grant immunity from frivolous lawsuits.
- Public support for research should be expanded and include
research related to food and fiber production, including
new product development, vertical integration, export enhancement,
and safe and effective cultural practices. We support measures
that expand trade incentives, remove barriers to global
competitiveness, and eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens.
The following package of incentive programs are intended to help provide long-term economic security for California agriculture. We support changes in both state and federal law that will encourage landowner participation in long-term conservation strategies. These new programs should be voluntary and provide significant financial incentives to offset the desire by landowners to maximize their return on investment through parcelization and conversion to non-agricultural uses. Government can't force agricultural landowners to produce food; it can, however, discourage food production by excessive taxation, over regulation, and poor land use planning. Our intent is to make sure that government encourages the production of food, fiber and other agricultural commodities. In addition to conserving the land base, the focus of an incentive program must encourage the profitability of farming and thus help to maintain the business of agriculture. One of the desired consequences of more profitable agricultural enterprises will be land use stability in rural California.
Although the Williamson Act has been effective in conserving agricultural land, it does not achieve long-term conservation, especially in areas under extreme pressure for urbanization. A program similar to the Williamson Act that establishes enforceably restricted land, but which involves a contract for 20 to 30 years instead of ten years and offers greater incentives for landowners should be established for the conservation of farmland. We also support voluntary agricultural conservation easements under the Agricultural Land Stewardship Program (ALSP) that encourage and support viable agricultural production. Both enforceably restricted agreements and agricultural conservation easements should be focused on areas that are under intense development pressure. We favor agricultural conservation easements and enforceably restricted land agreements that provide the following incentives for landowners:
(a) No restrictions, other than existing local zoning laws, that remove the ability to change crops or commodities, or alter agricultural practices, to maintain a viable enterprise.
(b) Standard clauses in easement contracts that protect the landowner in unusual circumstances (e.g., "amendment of easement" and "termination of easement" clauses) to ensure that the purpose of the easement (in this case, production agriculture) is maintained and not prohibited or deemed impossible through conditions beyond the control of the landowner.
(c) A secure and affordable water supply for irrigation.
State and Local Issues
(d) No reassessment for property tax purposes of new irrigation equipment that is used on the land.
(e) Investment tax credit for water-saving devices used on the land.
(f) State income tax credit equal to the value of the conservation easement when a landowner donates an agricultural conservation easement.
(g) A significant income tax credit when a landowner enters land into a thirty-year enforceable restriction.
(h) A capital gains tax reduction for the seller of farmland when the land sold is under a permanent agricultural conservation easement or a long-term agricultural conservation strategy. The reduction would be based on the number of years left in the agreement, with more years bringing a greater reduction.
(i) An exemption from estate taxes on farmland when the land is under a permanent agricultural conservation easement or a long-term agricultural conservation strategy.
The current Agricultural Land Stewardship Program needs to be adequately funded so that a stable revenue is available for the purchase of agricultural conservation easements. We support pursuing one or more of the following funding options, along with other relevant options that may be appropriate:
(a) Williamson Act cancellation fees that are currently directed back to the state's general fund,
(b) The USDA Conservation Reserve Program,
(c) A land conversion assessment (if agricultural land is converted for urban uses, the project proponents would be required to contribute to a fund that is established for the sole purpose of purchasing agricultural conservation easements),
(d) A bond act (state general obligation bond) for the purpose of funding the purchase of agricultural conservation easements,
(e) Ongoing appropriation from the state budget (e.g., dedication of tidelands oil revenue, general fund appropriation).
We also encourage localities to develop their own funding options, such as a voter-approved, dedicated sales tax or a non-agricultural parcel tax.
We envision a list of criteria that establishes which lands receive priority for funding from the Agricultural Land Stewardship Program for the purchase of conservation easements. Landowners would elect to participate in the ALSP on a voluntary basis and easements would be purchased on lands that meet the criteria and in order of priority. These criteria need to be established so that public money is used in the most efficient way. In any case, in order for local governments to be eligible for state money to fund the purchase of conservation easements in their jurisdictions, they must have a unified countywide plan. (7) (see Principle 5) Priority for easement purchases should be given to agricultural land in the path of development.
Strategies for agricultural land conservation could also include transfer of development rights where such a program is feasible and useful for preventing the unnecessary conversion of productive agricultural land.Principle 3: Federal, state and local water policies that ensure an adequate and affordable water supply for agriculture.
We support restoring, expanding, and developing water supplies for agricultural land at rates affordable to agriculture. We encourage the use of efficient water management practices by agricultural and urban water users.
Any transfer of water from agricultural land in the Central Valley to urban centers or for urban development in the state should not exceed water needed for that land to be economically farmed. In addition, water transfers should not alter a sustainable water balance between imported and exported water and the groundwater basin. Furthermore, local and regional agricultural economies and dependent communities should not be adversely affected by the transfer of water.
Before local governments in the Central Valley approve more urban development, a proven water source for that development should be identified and established. These water supplies should not include taking water currently directed to, or available from, agricultural land if that water is necessary for agricultural production.
For urban development, we encourage desalinization as a water source and community designs and plans that achieve more efficient water use, including the use of recycled water.
Clearly, increased urban development and the state's growing population has significantly impacted California's water supply infrastructure. We believe that new water demands should be responsible for the costs of developing new water supplies.Principle 4: Fiscal stability and revenue discretion for local governments so that land use decisions can be based on good planning and the long-term health of our communities and resources rather than short-term fiscal gain.
Although existing laws already state the importance of agriculture and farmland conservation, implementation of these laws is difficult primarily because local governments receive economic signals that are contrary to these stated policies and goals. Good land use planning is difficult, for example, when local governments are increasingly forced to rely on sales tax as their principal source of revenue growth.
Economic incentives must be built into the system to encourage local governments to plan for the long-term health and welfare of Central Valley communities, which includes the conservation of agricultural land and the continuation of production agriculture.
We support the return of property tax money to counties and cities that was taken by the state earlier this decade for the Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund (ERAF). Local governmentsparticularly countiesneed relief from fiscal instability which becomes the driving force behind land use decisions. These decisions are based on short-term fiscal benefits instead of a long-term sustainable vision for the community and our resources.
We support fair and equitable revenue sharing agreements among cities and counties to reduce competition for auto malls and shopping centers and allow both cities and counties to survive financially. The agreements should be negotiated by the cities and counties and reflect the cities' role in providing urban services and the counties' role in protecting resources, and their respective costs to serve new development.Priciple 5: The development in each Central Valley county of a unified countywide plan (involving the county and cities) with specific agricultural and urban policies.
Current state law requires each county and city to develop, update, and follow its general plan. Instead of requiring individual plans, we believe the state should encourage and fund the development of a unified countywide plan within each of the 18 Central Valley counties. These plans should be unique to each county considering its conservation and development objectives.
State funding for any new mandates should be provided. This would maintain local control but reduce the current fragmented approach to land use planning by achieving a more cooperative and comprehensive approach. Counties and cities would have access to state-of-the-art planning tools while developing their countywide plans. The countywide plans should help define the roles of counties and cities with regard to land use and help direct future decisions. We oppose, however, the institution of any new form of regional government in the Central Valley.
All local governments within a county should participate in the creation of its countywide plan. Following the completion of their countywide plans, local governments would be eligible to receive the following:
(a) infrastructure financing through the state infrastructure bank,
(b) funds to finance the purchase of conservation easements, and
(c) continued funding for, and access to, state-of-the-art planning tools for future projects and plans, including computer modeling and GIS mapping to help cities and counties visualize the long-term effects of a project or plan on their community and the entire Central Valley.
Before any state or federal money is used to finance infrastructure projects, findings of the project's consistency with countywide plans should be required.
We support policies in countywide plans that try to improve conditions affecting the entire Central Valley (e.g., air and water quality issues). Each countywide plan should contain an Agricultural Policy and an Urban Development Policy. (see Principle 7).
The California Department of Conservation and the California Department of Food and Agriculture should verify that a countywide plan with agricultural and urban policies is in place before local governments receive funds for the purchase of conservation easements.
In addition to countywide plans, we support increased regional cooperation among counties on common land use issues. It is especially important for the planning professionals in the cities and county to share information and ideas.Principle 6: Amendments and use of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to provide more thorough and consistent environmental evaluation when proposals to convert important agricultural land to non-agricultural uses occur.
While we acknowledge the use of CEQA to study environmental impacts of proposed projects, we oppose the use of CEQA as a last ditch effort to halt infill, higher density development, or agricultural land conversion when such development is planned and appropriate for a given area and can result in less pressure to convert other agricultural land to urban uses.
We support amendments to the CEQA statute and its regulatory guidelines that will result in useful information to help local decision makers understand the spectrum of environmental impacts that could result when agricultural land is converted to non-agricultural uses. This includes the potential for increased conflict between adjacent agricultural and non-agricultural land uses and the negative impacts on resources that are necessary for agriculture, such as water. (8) The long-term cumulative social impact of losing important agricultural land and resources should also be addressed if the state's per capita production of agricultural products is diminished as the population grows.
Existing law is often narrowly interpreted so that the conversion of agricultural land to nonagricultural uses is not considered a significant environmental impact under CEQA. Likewise, impacts on agricultural resources are not necessarily considered significant. Consequently, we support amending CEQA to provide greater recognition of the potential negative impacts resulting from farmland conversion, including cumulative effects.
The agricultural community has called attention to the need for water supply planning so urban development doesn't automatically rely upon agricultural water supplies for future expansion. Recent lawsuits to protect agricultural enterprises from the adverse impacts of new developments in agricultural zones often center on the loss of agricultural water supplies and impacts on the continued viability of neighboring farm operations. We believe CEQA should include an examination of conflicts between land use and water use policy. We believe that the dedication of land for agricultural use through the use of the Williamson Act, conservation easements, and other methods are thwarted if water supplies necessary to those lands are transferred to non-agricultural uses.
In addition, amendments to CEQA could be useful in addressing the problems associated with the establishment of wildlife habitat preserves. Under existing law, when a wildlife refuge or other kind of protected habitat is created, the neighboring agricultural operations are often required to modify their activities. If CEQA recognizes the importance of agricultural land and resources, agriculture would be elevated to the same level of importance as wildlife and natural lands. This could result in a fairer distribution of necessary mitigation measures.
Currently, routine agricultural operations, including customary plant and animal husbandry practices, do not constitute a "project" under CEQA. We support this and oppose any changes in CEQA that would add regulatory burdens on agricultural activities.Principle 7: Policies and incentives that keep urban uses in urban areas and encourage city-centered development by using existing urbanized land more efficiently through infill, higher density development, and revitalization of existing urban areas.
In order for the agricultural industry to have the motivation and confidence to make the necessary investments in the industry, it needs a measure of certainty with regard to the use of farmland. This certainty has been eroded through the rapid urbanization of Central Valley farmland. Therefore, the land use decision-making process must involve an objective, mea-surable, goal-driven process to create a measure of certainty for agricultural land and restore confidence in the future of agriculture. This also serves to reduce speculation and competition for the land from those who want to use the Valley's prime farmland for non-agricultural uses.
Through unified countywide plans, local jurisdictions should create their own method for reaching the measurable goals for increasing residential densities.
The purpose of an Agricultural Policy is to develop long-term strategies that encourage economically viable agriculture (9) and create conditions to conserve agricultural land and other resources.
A. The Agricultural Policy should include the following:
- A description and map showing the location of important agricultural lands in the county.
- Goals, policies, and relevant standards that promote the protection of these agricultural lands for the production of food and fiber.
- Implementation measures that show how the county and cities
are going to carry out the goals and policies.
B. The Agricultural Policy should specify how the county and cities plan to implement the following principles:
Establish criteria for deciding which lands receive priority
for funding of agricultural conservation easements.
Protect important agricultural land from non agricultural
uses that contribute to the urbanization of this finite resource.
Establish adequate minimum parcel sizes to reflect local
conditions in agricultural areas so they are economically
viable for production agriculture rather than rural homesites
Establish an objective, measurable, and quantifiable process
for deciding which lands will be developed and which lands
will be conserved for agricultural use. (10)
Urban Development Policy
The purpose an Urban Development Policy is to encourage city-centered growth at more efficient densities so we can create a workable infrastructure to accommodate the planned growth of the region.
A. The Urban Development Policy should include the following:
- Goals and policies that establish certainty for development location, standards, and fees.
- Implementation measures that show how local governments are going to carry out the goals and policies.
- A framework for cooperative intergovernmental land use planning that allows urbanization to occur in an efficient, cost-effective manner that enhances the quality of life for citizens of the communities as well as conserving the resources of the county.
- A clarification of the roles of the cities, county, and
local agency formation commissions (LAFCO) in land use decisions.
B. The Urban Development Policy should specify how the county and cities plan to implement the following principles:
- Restrict urban uses to urban areas where the full range of municipal services are available.
- Encourage infill, the revitalization of existing urban areas, and more efficient land use, including increased average densities for new residential development.
- Establish an efficient transportation system to improve air quality.
- Improve the conservation and use of resources, including
We support an amendment to the planning and zoning law that would eliminate the obligation of counties to provide housing in the unincorporated areas and instead require housing to be located in city limits. This is appropriate provided counties prevent commercial and industrial development (other than agriculture) in the unincorporated area.
We favor a state law that would require school districts to locate their facilities in areas designated for urban development rather than using less expensive agricultural land for schools.
We support restricting future urban development to cities and existing unincorporated communities. These unincorporated urbanized areas should financially support county-administered urban services that are comparable to those services provided by cities.
Within city spheres of influence:
(a) Cities should be responsible for providing municipal services;
(b) Annexation to cities is preferable to the formation of new county service areas or the expansion of existing county service areas;
(c) Land should be annexed to the city prior to being developed for urban purposes or prior to receiving municipal services;
(d) Land uses allowed by the county without annexation should be equal to, or more restrictive than, land uses allowed by the city;
(e) County imposed development standards and capital improvement requirements for new or expanding developments should not be less than those that are imposed by the city.
Urban development should use land more efficiently. We support increased density requirements for new residential development in cities and existing unincorporated communities. We also support a reduction in fees and an expedited permit process for infill development.11
Cities should encourage developers to meet increased average residential density standards in areas recently developed before annexation can occur and before spheres of influence can be amended. We support an amendment to the Cortese /Knox Local Government Reorganization Act that would require cities to make findings for review by LAFCO prior to seeking approval to increase the sphere of influence and prior to seeking land annexation. LAFCO should be allowed to approve the sphere expansion or city annexation only if the findings show that the city has met a specified average residential density requirement for new and recent development in existing city limits and established a pattern of more efficient land use. Cities may need to rezone existing commercial and industrial land inside city limits to meet these residential standards. Development on future approved expansions should also meet these density standards.
We support an amendment to the Planning and Zoning Law that would require unincorporated communities to participate in a similar process as cities (currently, the LAFCO process) before land contiguous to unincorporated communities can be redesignated and/or re-zoned to accommodate community expansion.
Cities and unincorporated communities should not discourage multi-story development so that future development in cities and unincorporated urban areas can expand upward, where appropriate, instead of outward.
Cities and counties should be encouraged to establish a hierarchy of development fees that will promote infill development, higher densities, and city-centered development. The development fees for projects closer to the urban center should be less than the fees for property farther from the urban center and development fees for higher density projects should be less than the fees for lower density projects.
The state and federal governments should remove barriers to the re-use of urban land, including removing regulatory and liability barriers to the re-use of urban brownfields.
Principle 8: Funding for the state infrastructure bank with clear priorities on the kinds of infrastructure projects that will be eligible to receive financing form the state bank.
We support additional funding for the state infrastructure bank, provided that development projects funded with this money meet the goals of this report. To be eligible to receive funds, counties and cities should have a unified countywide plan with policies that are consistent with the goals of this report, including policies that encourage infill, higher density development, the revitalization of existing urban areas, and efficient land use. Projects eligible for funds from the state infrastructure bank should be within an already developed urban service area or within a proposed new town that is consistent with the agricultural land conservation policies presented in this report.
The state infrastructure bank should give first priority to local government infrastructure financing that helps maintain existing infrastructure and improves the capacity of existing infrastructure to accommodate increased densities on land that is already urbanized. Funding for infrastructure on newly urbanized land should occur only if development meets specific density and location requirements that result in the conversion of the least amount of agricultural land.
Principle 9: Federal, state and local transportation policies that support compact development, the conservation of important agricultural land, and clean air.
We encourage urban designs and community plans that reduce the use of personal automobiles and thereby reduce the negative impacts on air quality and the corresponding lower crop yields.
Transportation decisions by local, state, and federal governments and by private sector transportation developers (e.g., the builders of toll roads) - particularly with regard to the location of major infrastructure - should include an analysis of the consistency of such decisions with unified countywide plans. Such infrastructure projects should support the goals of more efficient land use and resource protection.
We oppose the expansion of commuter transportation access from the Central Valley to major urban areas outside the Central Valley if such access encourages people to use the communities in the Central Valley as bedroom communities. Expanded access may be appropriate after agricultural conservation policies are firmly and thoroughly applied throughout the Central Valley.
Principle 10: A clarification and refinement of the roles that city, county and state governments should play in making land-use decisions.
We strongly support local control over land use decisions. Any agency responsible for making land use decisions must have responsibility, authority, and accountability. Cities should be responsible for accommodating urban growth and development. Counties should be responsible for cooperating with their cities to develop efficient urban growth patterns and the conservation and protection of resources. Funding for local governments should support this distribution of responsibilities and the unified countywide plans should establish and reinforce this relationship.
The state should assist local governments by establishing a data monitoring system that collects information on development patterns in every city and county of the Central Valley. It is a reasonable role for the state to collect and generate objective data relating to urban development and farmland conversion. This includes densities for existing and new development, land conversions for both residential and non-residential development, and population growth. The Department of Conservation and the Office of Planning and Research are existing state agencies that could play a role in this task.
The information gathered by the state and available through this data system should be used by local governments when documenting or substantiating necessary findings for land use decisions. Furthermore, findings by local governments should accompany applications for public money from the state to finance infrastructure (state infrastructure bank), to fund conservation easements (Agricultural Land Stewardship Program), and to fund local planning programs with state-of-the-art planning tools. These findings should include proof that the county/city has implemented the goals and policies in its countywide plan, which could be substantiated by the state-established data monitoring system.
Development in the Central Valley by all levels of government should reflect the policies stated in this report and serve as examples of how development should be accomplished rather than reflect less stringent standards that demonstrate their autonomy and lack of regard for the goals of local government.
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